Saturday, October 08, 2011

Review: The Girl's Guide to Girl Scouting-Brownie

The publicity arm of Girl Scouts of the USA has managed to get quite a few news organizations and bloggers to run their press release touting the widespread enthusiasm for their newly released handbooks.  As a matter of disclosure, I'll tell you that I have some real issues with the way GSUSA has handled the whole transition to this new program as well as with what they are calling the core component--"Journeys".  While I'm sure those issues affect my overall attitude about the corporate Girl Scouts of the USA organization, I'm trying not to let them affect my review of this book.  I am trying to look at the book both through the eyes of a mother of a Girl Scout Brownie and through the eyes of a Girl Scout Brownie leader.

This book is a binder, which had a magnetic closure in the front.  The idea, I'm sure is that parts can be added as needed or replaced in coming years without having to replace the entire book.  However, from a purely practical standpoint, it also has real problems.  I bought my book (with my own hard-earned money, not troop money) Thursday.  My daughter looked at it Thursday night, the girls flipped through it at the meeting yesterday, and my daughter played with it last night.  At this time, the pages are out of order, at least one hole has been ripped (and since it is the front page, I suspect the other two on that page will soon follow unless I get reinforcers).  Also, as someone who uses binders regularly at work, I can tell you that something else I do regularly at work is replace said binders because they no longer close properly.  I don't know if that will be a problem with this binder or not.

It is printed on a nice quality glossy paper and is bright and colorful.  It is designed to look like a kids' magazine with sidebars, cartoons, and pretty fonts.  It features a Brownie Elf creature and three girls (one European-looking, one African-looking and one Asian-looking) who are featured in all the GSUSA materials for this age level.  It definitely attracted my daughter's attention.

The book includes a Brownie Elf paper doll and clothes, along with some play money and cards for a shopping activity.  My daughter wanted to cut out the paper doll right away.  She was  unable to make those close cuts, so she brought it to me; and frankly I found those cuts hard to make.  She enjoyed playing with them for a while but since the dolls were on the same thin paper as the clothes they were hard to use, and she got frustrated.  Of course, since she cut them out now, they probably won't be available when we get to working on the activity with which they were designed to go.

As a leader, the main issue I have with this handbook is the lack of badges, and the need to pay more for more badges.  I paid over $16.00 for this book, and it is on sale now; the "real" price is closer to $25.  This book lacks 15 of the badges; to get the requirements for them, I'll need to pay $4.00 each for three more packs of  requirements for 5 badges.  As far as the badge themselves, I have mixed feelings.  I think that after completing these badges the girls will know more about the topic than they did after earning one of the old "Try-it" badges.  While the Try-Its required the girls to complete four activities, these badges require five.  While the Try-it activities took about 15 minutes each, and were generally hands-on and fun, these, as a whole, take longer and most badges, even on the Brownie ( 2nd and 3rd Grade) level have a research component.  For example my group is working on the Bugs badge and the requirements include:
Draw a bug poster (do one)
1.  Go Talk a bug specialist in your town or community.
They might work at a museum or for a farming organization or gardening club.
2.  With an adult's help, find web sites about your bug.
And look online for lots of good photos so you can see your bug in action!
3.  Read a book or watch a video about your bug. It should be a book or video about a real bug, not a cartoon.
Now, any of those requirements are well within the skill set of the average seven or eight  year old.  However, in order to do this at a meeting, I'm either going to have to arrange for a speaker (luckily one of my girl's grandpa is an exterminator and he has agreed to talk to us), or arrange computer access, or grab a BIG stack of books from the library (I have 24 girls), or spend meeting time watching a video, which isn't why girls come to Girl Scouts.  I know I could send this home as homework, but frankly, the kids get enough homework from school.  They come to GS to have fun, not to do the same thing their science teacher might assign.  The badge requirements also include a craft and field trip as well as watching bugs and making a model of a bug home.

The Snacks badge requires them to make four different kinds of snacks, which I think is great.  We made smoothies last night and the girls loved them.  We made funny faces with raw veggies on a day outing--those weren't as popular.  We'll make cookies and one more thing before we are done.  However we also have to do one of the following:

  1. You've probably heard words like vitamins, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber. Choose one of these or another food word you've heard and find out what it means. Then bring a food that contains that thing to a meeting. Tell your friends what it is, how your body uses it, and if it's good for you.
  2. Make a report for one fruit or vegetable. Draw a picture of it. Write why it's good for you, how it grows, and how to tell if it's ready to eat. Then go to the grocery store or farmer's market and ask where it travels from to get to your area. For more fun: Have a "food miles" relay with your Brownie group!
  3. Go on a scavenger hunt in your kitchen or at a grocery store and find three packaged snacks. Look at the list of ingredients. Find three you don't recognize and team up with an adult to figure out what they are and if they're good for you.
Again, not the kind of thing that is going to be easy for me to arrange to be done at a meeting.  While I'm sure that GSUSA's answer is that the badges weren't designed to be completely done at meetings, the reality is that for most girls, they don't want homework from Brownies, especially homework that sounds just like something their teacher would send home, and, as a parent, I have enough "fun" with school homework, I don't want to help with yet another report.

I like the fact that the handbook includes a generic religious award that all girls of faith can earn.

Overall, I'd give this Binder a C.  Bright, colorful, attractive, good concepts but poor execution.  Too expensive.  Not durable.

Note:  As of September, 2015, I am blogging about my adventures as a Girl Scout Brownie Leader at


  1. Anonymous10:37 AM

    Great review -- but I actually give all the new books an F based only on the fact that they were printed in China. Girl Scouts of the USA should have books printed in the USA!

  2. Anonymous12:15 PM

    Our brownie leader asked her girls to bring bugs and the girls and parents had no problem with it.
    I asked my juniors to talk to 4 women about jobs or things they had done in their life and was told by this same brownie leader her daughter wouldn't do homework in GS because it would not be a priority.
    I agree with just about everything you stated, but I also think in order for the girls to "discover" what they think, they have to look otherwise they are discovering what we want to discover based on how we plan the badge and what we bring to the meeting.
    I don't want a leader doing it all for my child. she has a brain she can use.

  3. Anonymous3:23 PM

    I am also a troop leader and I agree that the binders are eye catching and appealing to the girls. I like that the badges and earned awards are described in the binder. The one glaring problem that I have with the binder is the size. The binder is FULL when you first purchase it, to the point that you have to be careful turing the pages. How are you supppose to cram 3 more badge sets into it?

  4. Anonymous2:00 PM

    I am also a Girl Scout leader. I agree with you bout the aesthetics and the durability of the binders. I did buy the 3 extra badge sets. I used my own money, got it during the sale and still paid $29.00. ($74.00 total) That does not include the $15,oo for each of the Journey sets. Where does that money go? My troop doesn't see any of it. You can't tell me that it costs that much to make them since it is printed in China and they were not made to last very long. As a matte of fact, I would like to know where all the money goes that the GSUSA earns for all of their overpriced items.
    The binder, with the 3 badge sets, is completely FULL. I can't even turn the pages now. If I want to look at a badge I will remove it from the binder. I do not want to rip it since I paid so much for it!
    We will not be getting binders for every girl. We will use the one I have. If they need to do something from the binder, I will make a copy.
    I do like how the new program is focusing on "Girl Led" activities. Many of my girls will stand around and wait for instruction before doing anything. I like making them think for themselves.

  5. Virginia10:25 AM

    The key is to adapt the choices to fit your group. Be flexible.

    For the nutrition part of the snack badge, we had our girls (20 of em) bring in a box or package from a snack. I brough a few extras since some girls forget.
    Then I had them write down ingredients that they recognized (flour) and ones they did not recognize (niacin, di-acetyl-whatever). I gave them a sheet of paper with those two headings, and they worked in pairs. Then each team reported on one thing they knew and one thing that that was new. We voted on which snacks we would like to eat.
    Took about 30-40 mins.

    For the snack badge, we couldn't make a complex drink, so each girl got to squeeze a lemon and make fresh lemonade in a red solo cup.
    Good luck leaders!!

  6. What did you find out about the new stuff? In other word, you identified di-acetyl-whatever as something you didn't recognize. Did you do the research to find out what it was?

  7. I like the binder, but I do not like the fact that I had to buy the extra badge set for the quest book. The only reason I bought the binder (with my own money) is I was able to get a scoutship this year my daughters and I. Therefore I reasoned I could spend the $20 I would have spent on uniforms parts on a binder for myself as leader. Oh yeah, and my littlest one has already ripped one of the pages out. Had to fix it already. Also as a leader I carry enough stuff to the meeting , I would have appreciated a smaller book. I am compiling the badge requirements on my troops website at scoutlander:
    The badges are all over the internet if you don't mind searching for them.

  8. I am a new (second year) leader so I'm not familiar with the "old" way or books. I don't have a problem with the binders and like the fact that things can be rearranged in the order you plan to complete badges. As first year Brownies we are working our way through the Legacy badges as our second year Daisies finish their last Journey. Now the JOURNEYS are what I have issues with. They are the most convoluted curriculum I can imagine. It takes several reads to understand what they are wanting the girls to accomplish - which seams to be several unrelated things. For example, one Daisy journey talks about preparing for a trip but then wants girls to do a conflict-resolution activity and the next thing you know they are talking about seeds and going on a nature walk. We didn't even start a Brownie journey this year, just doing the Legacy badges. And the key is to be flexible....for the snack badge we decided on the Food Miles activity. Each girl (six) got to pick their own food and then find out where it comes from by using a book, the internet or a grocer and how it gets here, and whether or not we can grow/buy it locally. We also discussed the pros and cons of where our food comes from. This only took about 15mins in our meeting and only about 10mins with my daughter outside of the meeting. I figure if parents/girls can spend that much time doing "girl scout homework" then they probably aren't committed to being one. Band/Sports/Chess all expect effort and time beyond regulation practice, why can't we??


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